The hot new political controversy of the day started yesterday. Taking questions in the oval office, President Trump spoke about the relationship between Jews and the Democratic party. He suggested that Jewish voters who support Democrats are “disloyal,” though he did not specify to what.
Trump’s comments sparked outrage on the Left. Talk of “loyalty” is a well-known antisemitic trope. And they were quick to pounce on the problematic language and expose it for what it is: latent antisemitism. But there’s a major problem with their newfound concern for antisemitism: many of the same voices remained silent when Representative Ilhan Omar used the exact same language to describe Israel.
Trump’s Troublesome Diatribe
The media came into the Oval Office Tuesday to ask President Trump their questions. Many of those questions focused on the President’s current political feud with Representatives Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib of “the Squad.” Trump has criticized the two women for their antisemitic behavior. And he was at the center of the controversy when Israel chose to bar the two women from entering the country.
Building on those themes, Trump took the opportunity to further condemn the Democratic party. Here is the video, followed by the transcript:
I can’t believe we’re even having this conversation,” the President said. “Where has the Democratic party gone? Where have they gone where they’re defending these two people over the State of Israel? And I think any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat, uh… I think it shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.”
The accusation is simple: Trump’s use of “disloyalty” ties into a common antisemitic trope. Simply put, it is broadly-speaking antisemitic to suggest that Jews have dual-allegiance to Israel and their native country. More generally, it is usually bigoted to think that any group ought to think collectively about any issue.
But as Andrew Silow-Caroll points out in an article titled “An idiot’s guide to anti-Semitic tropes,” this language is difficult precisely because it is nonspecific.
“Tropes are often easy to identify,” Silow-Carroll said, “because they can be deployed unknowingly by those who couldn’t accidentally, say, deface a synagogue. As a result, tropes allow those charged with anti-Semitism a degree of deniability.”
The Left Lashes Out
Quickly, many politicians and most in the media suggested that Trump’s use of the trope was intentional. They believed the President was specifically targeting a trope to shame Jews who might vote for Democrats.
The story led many of the major news networks this morning. CNN’s Jim Sciutto had on the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), Jonathan Greenblatt, to harshly condemn Trump’s comments.
“I will be exactly clear on what that was: antisemitism. The charge of disloyalty or dual loyalty has been used against Jews for thousands of years… So today in this country, where we’re seeing a rise of white supremacy, where we’re seeing a rash of antisemitic attacks… it is bewildering that we even have to have this conversation, and that these words are coming out of the Oval Office.”
Sciutto gravely verified Greenblatt’s final comment, before pressing him to further condemn Trump. Most specifically, he asked about the double standard of a President who lobs antisemitic charges at his opposition, while using them himself, all the while refusing to condemn white supremacy and bigotry. (Speaking of tropes with no basis in fact, the Left continues to turn to that one, even though it isn’t remotely true).
CNN, Sciutto, Greenblatt, the ADL, and everyone else who is condemning Trump today are justified in their outrage at his comments. But (with the exception of Greenblatt and the ADL) their outrage would carry more weight if they’d applied the same scrutiny to members of their own side.
Trump’s comments are problematic. They are at best careless and at worst intentionally manipulative. And whichever category they fall into, they clearly utilize longstanding antisemitic tropes that shame Jewish people into thinking a certain way. All of that is true.
But it is also true that the targets of his recent attacks, the Squad, have used many of these same tropes before. Back in March, Omar used precisely the same questions about dual allegiance to target Jews, saying: “I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says that it is OK for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country.”
Those comments were met with strong condemnation from the Right, but the Left did little to stop them. After briefly pursuing a resolution to condemn Omar’s remarks, Democrats in the House settled on a weak-willed resolution condemning all forms of bigotry.
More recently, Ayanna Pressley, another member of the Squad, made highly problematic comments suggesting that all minority voices ought to think and vote the same way. Here is a transcript of her comments:
“f you’re not prepared to come to that table and represent that voice, don’t come, because we don’t need any more brown faces that don’t want to be a brown voice. We don’t need black faces that don’t want to be a black voice, we don’t need Muslims that don’t want to be a Muslim voice. We don’t need queers that don’t want to be a queer voice. If you’re worried about being marginalized and stereotyped, please don’t even show up because we need you to represent that voice.”Representative Ayanna Pressley
The Problem of Politics
While those comments by Omar and Pressley (and others made by Tlaib) were weakly condemned by some voices on the Left, they were never a headline story on CNN. The ADL did specifically condemn Omar’s comments at the time, but the story wasn’t covered.
The media exposes its clear bias when it refuses to challenge those on the Left in the same way that it scolds those on the Right. Here is a clip from Sciutto early this year, questioning Omar about her antisemitic claim that Israel “hypnotized the world.” There is no challenge of Omar’s weak explanation that she did not know how her comments would offend Jewish people. Just silence.
Now imagine Donald Trump was in the same place. Imagine President Trump agreed to come on CNN this morning and explained that he “didn’t know” the loyalty comments he made would be offensive to Jewish people. Can you imagine Sciutto looking on silently? If you can, you may want to consider reevaluating your views on media bias.
What’s the Point?
The idea is not to promote “whataboutism.” Trump’s comments are no better than many of Omar’s. And they don’t become better or less consequential just because they receive disproportionate media attention. Republicans should strongly condemn President Trump for his many off-color remarks. And history indicates, sadly, that they probably won’t. There is no excuse for that.
But, at the same time, there is no excuse for the history of antisemitic comments Omar and Tlaib have made. There is no excuse for Pressley’s comments, either. There is never any excuse for suggesting that all members of any group, be it based on race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or anything else ought to think, act, or vote a certain way.
But if the media wants credibility in rightly condemning Trump for these comments, they need to examine themselves. Just yesterday they were defending Omar and Tlaib. Now they are condemning Trump for his antisemitic tropes. Though many may not realize it, it is possible for politicians on both sides of the aisle to make the same error. But they refuse to treat it that way.
The media are effectively gaslighting their viewership. And it is double standards like these that help lend credibility to Trump’s attacking them as “fake news.” If they want to avoid that label, then they need to be more critical about challenging both Republicans and Democrats equally.